New Bill Aims to Expand Telehealth Services

November 2, 2019, 3:38 PM HST · Updated November 2, 3:38 PM
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Sen. Brian Schatz introduced a bill on Wednesday in an effort to “improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers.”

The bipartisan Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies for Health Act of 2019 would expand telehealth services through Medicare.

“This bill will help ensure that every American gets the care they need no matter where they live,” Schatz said in a press release.

Schatz noted in the release that multiple studies have indicated that telehealth improves care and patient satisfaction while reducing hospitalizations.

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The CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 would:

  • Provide the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the authority to waive telehealth restrictions when necessary;
  • Remove geographic and originating site restrictions for services like mental health and emergency medical care;
  • Allow rural health clinics and other community-based health care centers to provide telehealth services;
  • Allow Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth services at all Native Hawaiian health care facilities; and
  • Require a study to explore more ways to expand telehealth services so that more people can access health care services in their own homes.

Schatz and the Senate telehealth working group first introduced the CONNECT for Health Act in 2016. Since then, a number of provisions have been signed into law or adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The bill’s updated version includes new key measures health care experts, providers, and patient advocates agree will help improve access to care and drive down costs.

The Lānaʻi Community Health Center has developed one of the largest telehealth programs in Hawaiʻi.

According to the centerʻs medical director Dr. Joe Humphry, the program is “the only one of which we know where a rural primary care provider has driven the development and provides the technological infrastructure to support the program.”

“We have improved training for our providers and access to specialty care for our patients. Our success reflects our commitment to our patients; however, limitations include state and national regulations and health plan administrative rules,” Humphry added.

A copy of the bill is available here.

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